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Daniil Parenkov

Deputy Head, Department of Political Theory, MGIMO University, RIAC Expert

In the longer term, conservatism may play a role – especially in Europe – as an answer to the challenges posed by immigration, the identity crisis and uncontrolled development of technologies. If communists in present-day Russia are often referred to as conservatives, what prevents European conservatives of the future from becoming the champions of tolerance, same-sex marriages and secularity? In any case, in the accelerating pace of life the conservatives stand the best chance of finding effective “spiritual bonds”.

Conservatism came into being in the late 18th century as a reaction to the political projects of the early Liberals and as an intellectual response on the part of the old elites to the bid for power from the growing bourgeoisie. As an original system conservatism is first mentioned in Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, a meditation on the French Revolution published in 1790. It was not until 25 years later, however, that the word would be used as a term by those who supported the restoration of the Bourbons, including François-René de Chateaubriand. Fifteen years after that, in 1830, John Wilson Croker first referred to the British Tories as Conservatives.

Conservatism, proceeding from an organic interpretation of society, gives preference to political institutions and practices that have resulted from gradual development and embody stability and continuity. Like any ideology, conservatism is a system of interconnected interpretations of political concepts: traditions, authority, liberty, justice, etc. Very diverse political forces have called themselves, or have been labelled, conservatives: they range from the Christian democrats in Italy and Germany to right-wing radical and neo-conservatives in the United States. The emphasis in different movements may differ, but abiding features of conservatism are almost always its pessimistic view of human nature, a commitment to tradition as a way to ward off revolutions, the treatment of inequality as an indispensable condition of diversity and freedom, and the special role of authority.

In the longer term, conservatism may play a role – especially in Europe – as an answer to the challenges posed by immigration, the identity crisis and uncontrolled development of technologies.

Common Heritage

The Fitzwilliam Museum
Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-92), Lord
Rockingham & Edmund Burke, c. 1766

By 2080, the population of the European Union is projected to reach 520 million, of which almost a quarter – more than 120 million – will practice Islam. By 2030, 10 per cent of the population of France and Belgium will be Muslim. And these figures are only likely to grow, considering the flood of refugees that has overwhelmed the Old World in 2015. Immigration already worries EU citizens more than any other problem. It is also the chief national concern in Germany, Denmark and the United Kingdom. In addition to the obvious negative impact on the education system and the inevitable cultural and civilizational tensions that will arise, the high rate of immigration prompts fears about the future of the welfare state as an idea. The high level of social guarantees in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Scandinavian countries highlights the division between “us” and “them”. Europeans are genuinely concerned about why their taxes should go to pay child benefits for people who come from countries on the other side of the Mediterranean. Reducing the amount that they receive in benefits themselves is not seen as an option. Thus, the rhetoric of Geert Wilders, leader of the Party for Freedom, has veered to the left, calling for a reduction in the number of Moroccans in the Netherlands and criticizing plans to cut spending on healthcare.

In this context, conservatism and some of its elements will be in great demand. The political establishment will have to react to the challenges of immigration. It is impossible to solve the problem of the growing number of EU residents born outside Europe without radical, and indeed restrictive, measures. Conservatism, probably unlike other ideologies, has a conceptual toolkit that is far more suitable for the purpose.

Abiding features of conservatism are almost always its pessimistic view of human nature, a commitment to tradition as a way to ward off revolutions, the treatment of inequality as an indispensable condition of diversity and freedom, and the special role of authority.

First, while liberalism (which follows the Neo-Platonists and Humanists) and socialism (which puts its faith in social programming) believe in the evolution of humankind, conservatism highlights human passions, selfishness and greed. The first approach to human nature does not sit well with the need to limit the entry of immigrants or deport them because, after all, they have good intentions and will help Europe to develop, especially after they change under the influence of their new home. The pessimistic view sees a potential threat in every new arrival.

It is impossible to solve the problem of the growing number of EU residents born outside Europe without radical, and indeed restrictive, measures. Conservatism, probably unlike other ideologies, has a conceptual toolkit that is far more suitable for the purpose.

Second, the conservative interpretation of freedom and the attitude to the issue of equality provide a potent argument for the need to distinguish, including in legal terms, the status of citizens and the position of immigrants. In Reflections on the Revolution in France, Edmund Burke stresses that liberties are the “entailed inheritance derived to us from our forefathers, and to be transmitted to our posterity – as an estate specially belonging to the people of this kingdom”. The conservative critique of equality can be transferred from society’s inner structure to building a case for inequality between citizens and immigrants as the necessary condition for preserving the level of freedoms and social guarantees that generations of Europeans have achieved through hard work and which seekers of a better life would like to enjoy by simply arriving here. The rising tide of immigration makes classical conservative ideas more attractive. What Europe has to offer is, of course, a common heritage – only the shares sold out many years ago.

The conservative interpretation of freedom and the attitude to the issue of equality provide a potent argument for the need to distinguish, including in legal terms, the status of citizens and the position of immigrants.

Changes in the ethnic and religious composition of the population are making a substantial difference to the political reality in the United States. The process described in the American political discourse as “the browning of America”, leads the white population to rally in support of traditionally conservative values. On the one hand, this strengthens, in the long term, the positions of the Republican Party and increases conservative rhetoric in the party’s agenda. On the other hand, in a country where white people will be a minority as early as 2043, the majority of voters will be attracted by entirely different ideological constructs.

Not to us, LORD, Not to Us but To Your Name Be the Glory

EPA / STR / Vostock Photo
Migration – A Challenge of Time

The identity crisis most countries are facing today will only sharpen in the years to come. Even if we manage to cope with the fears caused by migration and economic crises, we will forever be haunted by Carl Jung’s image of man standing “at the very edge of the world, the abyss of the future before him, above him the heavens, and below him the whole of mankind with a history that disappears in primeval mists.” [1]. Reason demands a medicine from the fears of life and death, even if only temporary reference points and meanings. In response to the depersonalized collectivism of socialism and the equally depersonalized individualism of liberalism, conservatism can offer what Michael Oakeshott called “the joy of inheritance”. A sense of belonging to the historical community, being aware of one’s role in achieving the common good and feeling part of the moral unity have always been the strengths of conservatism. Life’s imperfections are easier to cope with if there is a higher project conferred by the Supreme Absolute of harmony, which may not be achievable on Earth, but is at least potentially achievable in the City of God.

In the accelerating pace of life the conservatives stand the best chance of finding effective “spiritual bonds”.

This role of conservatism will be particularly relevant in Russia, for which value orientation in the political space is vital. As ideological contradictions with the West deepen, Europe will lose its status as a conceptual beacon and the Russian elites will be more and more interested in building their own ideological platform, which will be conservative and take into account the influence of Orthodoxy and Islam. Moreover, in upholding the values of Old Europe and rejecting the new, Russia will be able to resolve the eternal East–West dichotomy with greater ease: conservative concepts are much more in tune with the ideas of Khomeini than with the fading light of European liberalism.

The more radical the future technological changes, the more relevant the conservative attitude to a qualitative change of life.

Conservatism, of course, will take very different forms in the United States and Europe. One hundred years from now, the religious references characteristic of the classical version of ideology may be replaced by the idea of a civil cult – that, or religion will be replaced by a set of conditional “Western values”. At the end of the day, if communists in present-day Russia are often referred to as conservatives, what prevents European conservatives of the future from becoming the champions of tolerance, same-sex marriages and secularity? In any case, in the accelerating pace of life the conservatives stand the best chance of finding effective “spiritual bonds”.

Diabolus ex Machina

AP Photo/Wong Maye-E
Maria Gurova:
Cradle of Surveillance


The welfare state will demand protection from the swelling numbers of those wishing to become part of it, while conservatism will provide the conceptual justification for restrictions.

The opportunities opened up by technology in the fields of energy conservation, the prolongation of human life and the development of information and communication technologies cannot but inspire optimism. However, any kind of innovation provokes fear of uncontrolled or excessive use, and of cardinal changes in the structure of social relations. Fuelled by the revelations of former special service agents about the limitless possibilities of spying – reports, for example, about the Google’s 2013 purchase of Boston Dynamics, a company that produces combat robots – people inevitably conjure up images of global chaos. The projected development of bio-computers (a working transistor based on DNA and RNA was created at Stanford in 2013) and the possibility of integrating humans into computer systems at the biological level (futurologist Ray Kurzweil predicts that by 2030 the human brain will be able to directly plug into a data “cloud”) takes the dystopia of the Matrix films from the realm of fantasy to the realm of a probable future. While human cloning and experiments with animals are seen by the layperson as something remote from daily life, something he or she might encounter only in moralizing TV talk shows, the smartphone that keeps track of the owner’s conversations and movements and the prospect of encountering a person whose thinking depends 50 per cent on the amount of data fed into their brain from outside will hardly leave anyone unperturbed. Conservatism is often accused of being reactionary, but it has never objected to change. It would not occur to anyone to reject innovations that improve the quality of life, but not everyone is ready to pay for this by changes in the very structure of social reality. Therefore, the more radical the future technological changes, the more relevant the conservative attitude to a qualitative change of life. Note the formulation of Edmund Burke: “the idea of inheritance furnishes a sure principle of conservation and a sure principle of transmission, without at all excluding a principle of improvement. It leaves acquisition free, but it secures what it acquires.” Conservative sentiments will be particularly strong at the junction of epochs when generations unprepared to accept the new order have not yet been replaced by those who know no other way of life.

The Fourth Age of Conservatism

As conservatism marks its 400th anniversary at the turn of the 21st and 22nd centuries, it will have lost none of its diversity.

In Europe, it will enable the European elites to hold on to power and at least try to solve the problem of growing immigration. The welfare state will demand protection from the swelling numbers of those wishing to become part of it, while conservatism will provide the conceptual justification for restrictions.

In the United States, the political forces embracing conservative ideas will have the support of a consolidated white minority.

If the trend for a resurgence of radical means of political transformations persists, conservatism will be relevant in its original sense, i.e., as protection against revolutions.

The rapid development of technology will change the socio-political discourse around innovations. Intellectuals will argue not about which operational system is inherently Catholic or Protestant, but about which of them is human-friendly. Future conservatives will tell their voters something like: “Vote for me not to be a slave of technology” or “Change your life. Remain human.”

It may well happen that 100 years from now conservatives will be upholding the traditions which are only emerging. While Russia, on the ruins of the Third Rome, may well become a centre of a new Pax Christiana, conservatives of the future in Europe and the United States may bring together former democrats, republicans, liberals, the right and socialists in defence of the mere right to describe reality in terms of “liberty”, “justice”, “equality”, “authority” and the opportunity to argue about the meaning of all these words.

1. C. Jung. Archetype and Symbol / Compilation and introduction by A.M. Rutkevich. – Moscow, Kanon+" ROOI "Reabilitatsiya” Publishing House, 2015. - p. 217 (in Russian)

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